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'PMF project is very unique in that it is the first time that two nations are equally partnering the development of a fighter aircraft'

  Chief of air staff, Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa PVSM, AVSM, YSM, VSM, ADC

Birender Singh Dhanoa What is your plan in the near, medium and the long term to build the desired 42 combat squadron? Do you see a possibility of rationalising combat force structure on three or four fighter aircraft?
Realising the critical operational necessity of fighter aircraft in Indian Air Force (IAF),the government has signed IGA for procurement of 36 Rafale aircraft in direct flyaway condition. Further, the inductions of remaining Su-30 MKI aircraft and Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) are in progress. These inductions will assist in arresting the drawdown in fighter fleet. The government is preparing a roadmap for induction of fighter aircraft in the IAF. When these inductions get fructified, the IAF will attain astrength of 42 Sqns. The future plan is to have an optimum mix of single/ twin engine aircraft and light/ medium and heavy aircraft.

Also, majority of fighter aircraft planned for induction in the future will be manufactured in India. TheIAF is likely to induct two Squadrons of Rafale aircraft. In addition, four Squadrons of Tejas are also planned to be inducted. The IAF is also looking at other avenues to augment its force structure.

Does the LCA meet the IAF’s minimum benchmark for operational necessities? Given the huge import dependence, the serial production of 120 LCAs including development of Mk 1As, is likely to take more than a decade. How will this match-up with the urgency of the IAF force structuring?
The LCA is advanced and state-of-the-art fighter aircraft in light-weight category with excellent handling characteristics. The full operational capabilities of the aircraft will be exploited in due course of time and the LCA will add to the combat potential of the IAF. We are working closely with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to ensure timely induction of these aircraft. For achieving authorised strength of 42 squadrons, the LCA is one of the important elements of fighter force structure plan. Induction of other suitable aircraft through ‘Make in India’ route are also part of the plan. The LCA Mk 1A is an improvement over the LCA MK 1 with advanced capabilities that include AESA radar, AAR and EW suite among various other features. With regard to the progress on development of aircraft, the IAF has already accepted three series production (SP) aircraft and more would follow soon. The series production has been planned so as to achieve the availability of aircraft in consonance with capability build up plans of the IAF.

What would be the priority regarding force multipliers?
Force multipliers are an important part of any Air Campaign as they have capabilities to alter the outcome of any battle. Inductions of force multipliers is part of the IAF’s high priority list. The IAF had embarked on a long-term plan to acquire force multipliers in a phased manner. This includes induction of additional AWACS, AEW&C, AWACS (India), additional FRAs, ISTAR and SIGINT aircraft. The IAF has been pursuing the case for acquisition of certain force multipliers e.g. Flight Refueller Aircraft (FRA), AWACS and AEW system, for past few years. The efforts are progressing and we are confident about acquiring these force enhancers in planned timeframes.

Regarding the need for a second fighter production line, would the Boeing’s twin-engine Super Hornet be considered along with the single-engine F-16 and Gripen-NG? Would the IAF prefer this to be made in the private sector or by HAL?
Lockheed Martin, Boeing and SAAB have offered to manufacture fighter aircraft in India. The extent of transfer of technology (ToT) being offered by the OEMs are being assessed by the IAF in terms of co-design, co-development,co-production and long-term maintenance being offered. Also, the government is in the process of finalising a strategic partner policy for manufacturing fighter aircraft in the country. Additionally, a study group formed at Air HQ has identified technologies for future fighter procurements. A detailed analysis of the proposals would be done and the government would be suitably advised. A chapter on the Strategic Partnerships is yet to be included in DPP-2016 and we would follow the guidelines issued on the subject.

The Indo-Russian FGFA programme appears to have been stuck on costs, technology issues and work-share. What is your position on the FGFA in terms of technology, cost and operational need? Since ADA’s proposal of the AMCA is also an FGFA, can India afford two FGFA programmes at the same time?
The Indian version of FGFA called the Prospective Multirole Fighter (PMF) is being jointly designed and developed by India and Russia.HAL from Indian side and Rosoboronexport from the Russian side are designated as the lead agencies.PMF project is very unique in that it is the first time that two nations are equally partnering the development of a fighter aircraft. Therefore, there are no prior benchmarks or precedents available to readily model the agreement of cooperation. Unlike an indigenous project where uncertainties and omissions can be addressed unilaterally, in the PMF project there is little room for such uncertainties because every issue will involve bilateral resolution which can be very time-consuming. Therefore, both the sides are taking extremely cautious steps to ensure that the full scope of work, deliverables, mutual responsibilities, principles of cooperation, etc. are comprehensively captured in the Contract. At present, the Research and Development (R&D) contract is under finalisation and the proposal is being reviewed by a Joint Committee. It is our endeavour to get the best value in terms of the technology so as to retain the operational edge.

When do you expect the mid-life upgrade for the Su-30 MKI fleet to start? How much time would it take to complete the development process, followed by the series modification?
The IAF is in discussion with HAL and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for defining the contours of Su-30 MKI enhancement programme. The timelines will emerge after finalisation of programme.

A Tri Service Aerospace Command, with the IAF in lead, was cleared in principle by the previous government. Will Aerospace Command be an important priority for you? What are the important areas that you would focus on in the aerospace command?
Ministry of defence (MoD) has communicated that formation of Aerospace Command will be considered after 2020 and in the interim; Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) has processed expanding the Integrated Space Cell (ISC) at HQ IDS to Defence Space Agency (DSA). DSA is proposed to be headed by a two-star officer directly under Chairman, COSC. It will perform the role ofTri-Service Nodal Agency and will form as nucleus for future Space Command.

Regarding network-centric warfare, the IAF has operationalised the backbone grids such as the AFNET and the IACCS. Since this is linked to crucial technologies such as SDR and data link for developing operational capability, how critical is it that these are sourced indigenously?
Requirement of SDR and Operational Data Link are crucial towards achieving network centric warfare capability. Hence, it would be advantageous that they are sourced indigenously, however, since no Indian vendor cleared the requirements of SDR for the IAF, these radios are being procured from abroad. Keeping in view PM’s ‘Make in India’ Campaign, all out efforts would be made to invite as many Indian vendors as possible for sourcing the Network Centric Operation Applications. The Pilot Project for Operational Data Link (ODL) was successfully completed by IAF in 2012. Based on the outcome of the Pilot Project, the requirements of Network Centric Operations (NCO) suitable for the IAF were evolved. Subsequently, initial case for procurement of Software Defined Radio (SDR) for the IAF was initiated in 2013 globally. Only one Indian company (M/s Alpha Technologies) and one DPSU (BEL) fielded their SDRs in response to the RFP. They did not meet the requirements of IAF hence, were not recommended by the Technical Evaluation Committee. The case for procurement of SDR is currently at CCS Stage. Simultaneously, the specifications of Network Centric Operation Applications (NCO Applications) are being worked out based on the IAF requirements.

For a country that aspires to be a great power, it is an anachronism to have its military almost entirely import dependent. Is the IAF looking at playing a more active role in reversing this trend? For example, will the IAF be inclined to take charge of some of the aerospace design centres such as ADA, DARE and weapons design laboratories? If so, will the IAF need to create its own research cadre, much like the Navy?
Indigenisation is one of the main priorities of the IAF. TheIAF has been fully supportive of indigenisation efforts and has contributed towards design, development and induction of various weapon systems. The IAF actively undertakes trials on all the aerial platforms, weapons and systems developed by DPSUs and other Indian agencies. The IAF also contributes to the funding of the projects undertaken by DRDO. In order to harness and direct indigenisation and R&D efforts the IAF is in the process of forming a Directorate of Research & Development which will be the nodal agency for directing R&D activities of breakthrough technologies and state-of-the-art equipment. This is essential for transforming the capabilities of the IAF and to achieve technological edge over its adversaries.

Since air defence is the IAF’s responsibility, in what timeframe do you visualise the procurement ofthe Russian S-400 missile system and its integration with the indigenous systems like Akash to happen?
Request for Proposal (RFP) for S-400 missile has been already issued and the system will be inducted in the IAF two years after the date of conclusion of contract. Integrationof S-400 with the IAF’s Air Defence Network (Includes Akash) is part of the RFP requirement.


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